We know how important it is to eat healthy foods. But it’s even more important to eat well as we get older, particularly when it comes to keeping our brains sharp. A new study points to the five key micronutrients that can help maintain our cognitive function.
Micronutrients are those vitamins and minerals required in varying quantities throughout our lives in order to keep our bodies in top shape. Researchers at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine found that levels of certain micronutrients are “strikingly lower” in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease compared with those who don’t have the disease.
The nutrients that help fight Alzheimer's were identified after the research team analyzed the brains of 31 donors. Most, but not all, brain donors had died with Alzheimer’s disease. Their average age was 75. The brains of those with Alzheimer’s had around half the level of particular micronutrients compared with unaffected brains, the team found.
The brains of those with Alzheimer’s had around half the level of particular micronutrients compared with unaffected brains.
The good news is that we don’t need to spend lots of money on supplements to get these brain-boosting micronutrients. They can be found in common foods.
So, what are these crucial nutrients and how do they help? They are:
- Lycopene. An antioxidant that could help protect cells from damage, lycopene gives some fruits and veggies — like tomatoes, watermelon, red oranges, pink grapefruits, apricots and guavas — their red hue.
- Retinol. This is a form of Vitamin A that helps our immune system work properly. It aids seeing in dim lighting and also keeps the skin healthy. It’s found in foods such as cheese, eggs, oil fish, milk, yogurt and liver. The body is able to convert beta-carotene into retinol. That’s why indirect sources are helpful and include yellow, red and green leafy vegetables like spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers, as well as yellow fruits like mangos, papaya and apricots.
- Lutein. This micronutrient is sometimes known as the “eye vitamin” because it’s thought to protect our eye tissues from sun damage. You can find it in the following foods: egg yolks, spinach, kale, corn, orange peppers, kiwis, grapes, zucchinis and squash.
- Zeaxanthin. An antioxidant, it’s known to also protect eye tissues from the sun and is found in eggs, oranges, grapes, corn, goji berries, mango and orange peppers.
- Vitamin E. This vitamin is also an antioxidant. Vitamin E keeps free radicals in check. Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable molecules that are made by the body naturally as a byproduct of your normal metabolism. Free radicals may also be made by the body after exposure to toxins in the environment such as tobacco smoke and ultraviolet (UV) light. Vitamin E also improves immune function and prevents clots from forming (which can lead to strokes). It can be found in soybean oil, almonds, peanuts, spinach, pumpkin, red bell peppers, asparagus, mangoes and avocados.
The good news is that we don’t need to spend lots of money on supplements to get these brain-boosting micronutrients.
Large studies reported that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s was “significantly lower” in those who ate diets rich in carotenoids, or who had high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in their blood or retina, according to Dorey.
If you are concerned you or a loved one might have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, don’t wait to speak with your healthcare provider, who may recommend seeing another specialist, like a neuropsychologist or a neurologist.
According to the National Institute on Aging, some of the warning signs of the condition include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Poor judgment, leading to bad decisions
- Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
- Losing track of dates or knowing current location
- Repeating questions or forgetting recently learned information
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Losing things or misplacing then in odd places
- Mood and personality changes